• semicircular canals;
  • radius of curvature;
  • axial eye diameter;
  • resolving power;
  • vestibulo-ocular reflex


The semicircular canals of the inner ear detect head rotations and trigger compensatory movements that stabilize gaze and help maintain visual fixation. Mammals with large eyes and high visual acuity require precise gaze stabilization mechanisms because they experience diminished visual functionality at low thresholds of uncompensated motion. Because semicircular canal radius of curvature is a primary determinant of canal sensitivity, species with large canal radii are expected to be capable of more precise gaze stabilization than species with small canal radii. Here, we examine the relationship between mean semicircular canal radius of curvature, eye size, and visual acuity in a large sample of mammals. Our results demonstrate that eye size and visual acuity both explain a significant proportion of the variance in mean canal radius of curvature after statistically controlling for the effects of body mass and phylogeny. These findings suggest that variation in mean semicircular canal radius of curvature among mammals is partly the result of selection for improved gaze stabilization in species with large eyes and acute vision. Our results also provide a possible functional explanation for the small semicircular canal radii of fossorial mammals and plesiadapiforms. Anat Rec, 297:781–790, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.